We all know how difficult it can be to bring a fresh take to conventional tropes. There may not be an easier beat sheet to follow that the horror slasher—you get some unstoppable killer, either undead or corporeal, and have them terrorize a group of usually young people in creative ways, until there is only the final girl left.
Despite the simplicity of that setup, Chris Nash found a way to make a high-concept slasher that does something entirely new in the genre. In a Violent Nature stays with the masked zombie killer almost the entire runtime, using a floaty third-person camera perspective and long, slow takes. The horror conventions you know from Friday the 13th and Halloween are still there, just slightly distant.
We were super excited to sit down with Nash ahead of his Midnight premiere this week and learn about his choices on the film, how he fought through some pretty massive challenges (and reshoots), and more. Enjoy.
No Film School: I would love to know how you came to the idea and your development process.
Chris Nash: Well, I came to the idea just inspired a lot by Gus Van Sant's trilogy, of Gerry, Elephants, and Last Days. I just love those films. It really became a big fan of slow environmental but methodical cinema, and also just growing up a horror fan, just wondering, like I often wonder how do we merge everything without seeming hopefully not too full of yourself or calling attention to yourself so much?
So just, especially the Van Sant films, focusing so much on the nature or the environment of where the characters are and how they're interacting and where they're walking through. I just felt like it was pretty, like seemed obvious. It felt like a slasher. And so it was just one of these ideas I had, and I'd been thinking about for a long time.
And I'm a prosthetics artist as well, so I was helping the prosthetics artist for this film, Steve Skansy, he's also a filmmaker, and I work on his movies too. We're always helping each other out. Toronto genre movie[makers are] very close-knit, so everybody knows each other and is usually pretty happy to give each other a hand.
So while we were in-between setting up shots, I think for his film, Psycho Goreman, we were just talking about a film, talking about slashers, talking about original new ideas and different ideas, and I was just saying I thought this would be a pretty cool approach to just follow the slasher around and just treat it one of those Van Sant films. And they were just super receptive being like, yeah, that's actually a really good idea.
And then that kind just gave me the wherewithal to be like, all right, well let's just write this down, because Steve was like, yeah, if you do that, I'll help you. And his DP, Andrew Apelle, who was the original DP for this film, was like the same thing, like yeah, that'd be great. So yeah, I just wrote it out, shopped it around.
NFS: You mentioned being a prosthetics artist and a special effects artist, and I did want to ask about that too. How did you get into prosthetics?
Nash: Primarily, it's always been writing and directing, but being a genre kid and growing up watching horror films and scouring through Fangoria and wanting to make your own horror film... I am from outside of a town called Sault Ste. Marie in Northern Ontario, and there's just nowhere to get anybody to work on anything, as far as prosthetics, especially at the time when we're talking. I was in high school in the mid to late '90s, so you just kind of figure it out by yourself.
It's really one of those things where I had kind of construction background too; my dad was a contractor, so I was just apt to just use whatever materials were around and just have more of a building attitude. So it was a lot of just figuring things out for myself for at least a full decade, even into when I went to film school in Toronto, and just developing, honing that craft, and then feeling the whole time that there's like, I must be doing this wrong. There must be a professional way to do this, and I don't know what I'm doing.
And then when I finally ended up meeting Steve and getting him to help me, I'm like, okay, so this is the way that I thought we should be doing this. What's the way to do this? And he's just like, it's just whatever gets it done. And that's really the bottom line, is you learn new materials, you learn specifics. The more you experiment, the specifics of how materials interact with each other and whether something can be more successful than another, but it really is just whatever you can do to get it done and allow yourself to make these mistakes.
I've noticed, just growing up, where I'm now terrified of software, where I cannot learn a new program. Blender looks amazing, but it is so like, am I going to learn Blender? No. And then I think I used to play a lot of music as a kid and do a lot of recording. And when I think back, how did I ever learn how to use these recording tools? And I was just like, oh, you just made a ton of mistakes and you didn't care. And it's the holding onto that or trying to dip back into that mentality. It's really difficult as you grow up, because the stakes are different, but that's the only way you can actually succeed in doing anything, I think.
NFS: That's a very No Film School answer. ... I do want to ask about one specific moment. The very first kill—I love that match cut from the hand, and I'm just wondering why you made that choice.
Nash: I fucking love match cuts, when they work well, which just means they've got to be deliberate. The first time I saw a match cut where we were like, oh, this was amazing, was Scott Reynolds' film Heaven with Martin Donovan, and there's a moment near the very end of the film where it's one of the most effective match cuts I've ever seen.
And since then, I'm always trying to figure out just feeling how effective that match cut was in showing where a character wound up, and then having that immediately transfer to where he was going, like how he wound up that way, it was just so great and brilliant. And I always try to recreate, find out ways to make match cuts where so much of the story is told within one cut of the film.
NFS: It definitely does that. I also wondered if it was perhaps a way to also save some money, because then you don't have to show so much of the gore at that point, just from an indie film perspective?
Nash: No, no, we could say that for sure, but that really wasn't the case. It was the case of just knowing how to slowly drip out the violence in the film and really not getting too much right away. More than the match cut itself, I loved the idea of him walking past the carnage afterwards and just seeing it off to the side, but paying no attention to it. And I thought that was, in conceiving it, I was like, okay, that seems very effective to me, where it's so disregarded not only by him, but by the camera. It's just something that happened. So showing the actual death of that character would've taken away from that moment completely.
NFS: I know that you've talked about this elsewhere and having to do some pretty extensive re-shoots, but I would love to know how you arrived there, and then what the process was for going back and doing such a massive amount of work.
Nash: Oh, well, how we arrived there was just kind of realizing that through all the issues that we had to face during production, because making a low-budget film is hard enough as it is, and some very specific hurdles happened to us, and we struggled through them as much as we could to try to get things done. And then when we had that whole block of shooting edited together and just like an assembly edit, it just kind of, I don't know, it was more of a feeling, more of a vibe where we're like this doesn't feel like what we'd intended. It felt like where you're just seeing too many concessions.
So it wasn't an easy decision. It was, well, kind of an easy decision for me, because I just feel like this needs to happen, but knowing what we'd be risking for that happening. We wouldn't have nearly the budget we did going at this again, essentially, almost re-shooting the entire film. We wouldn't have the crew, we wouldn't have a lot, and we'd have to do much more of the things ourselves, but it didn't come easy, but it felt necessary, and it felt like, do you really want to lead as a first feature with a film that's been so compromised, in a way. And saying so compromised, even that's a little too severe. Maybe I'm just stubborn. I don't know. I have no idea. It could have just been that too.
NFS: Just out of curiosity, what did the script look like, since there's so little dialogue? Was it more of an outline?
Nash: No. Originally, it was, I think, 50 pages, and then I just kept adding more in. So the entire ending monologue with the character that we introduced at the end, that wasn't in the initial one. So it was kind of like through that process of adding more things in really helped to kind of discover what the film was, I think.
But it forced me to think about things a lot more and also take it a little bit more out of this super-traditional slasher story that's seen over and over again. But originally, it was a very short script, with a lot of things in it where I'm trying not to add in too much internal monologue, because I also don't want the slasher to be that conscious of everything around. I do want it to be more of a force of nature.
And if you're adding or just trying to fill up the page with tone, it feels like, where's all that going? So it was a lot of just describing literally scenes of he's walking through the woods, and then making that as flowery as possible just so people wouldn't be bored reading the script.
NFS: Yeah, because you were at that point still looking for funding?
Nash: Yeah. So you're pulling up the thesaurus over and over again. How many different ways can you say walk?
NFS: What's your advice for horror filmmakers in the indie space?
Nash: Watch less horror films.
NFS: Watch less?!
NFS: Interesting. Why?
Nash: Just be a well-rounded fan of cinema.
NFS: That makes sense!
Nash: Watch—sorry, watch just as many, but flesh it out more.
NFS: And watch other stuff too.
In a Violent Nature is set to release on Shudder later this year.
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